The Bravest Person in The Room

Nora Ephron (1941-2012), Thanks and Goodbye

Nora Ephron (1941-2012), Thanks and Goodbye (Photo credit: k-ideas)

Nora Ephron died last June and it hit me in a way that I didn’t imagine it would. It is true that I love rom-coms and write them and hate that they have morphed into treacly formulaic tropes about career women and rough at the edges men, unendingly played in my nightmares by Katherine Heigel and Gerald Butler. But there are plenty of talented writers who write iconic films in my wheelhouse who if they died I’d say, well that’s a shame and move on.

Perhaps how I felt about Nora had to do with briefly meeting her at a New York Women In Film and TV event where she was the consummate storyteller and made everyone in the room feel like she was personally connecting with them. (I believe Tom Hanks when he says that he only took on “Lucky Guy” on Broadway to get a chance to hang out with her. She was that cool in her quintessential New York black turtleneck.)

Nora offered up lots of advice that night, replete with her trademark wit and pithiness but the advice that resonates the most with me had nothing to do with writing characters or dialogue. What resonates with me was the advice she gave to those who want to direct  that as a director you always have to be “the bravest person in the room”. She urged us to armor up and over-prepare (storyboards! shotlists! lookbooks!), advice which I’m taking to heart as a producer on the Bollywood-set project.

As it stands, the entertainment business operates out of a position of fear: fear of greenlighting the wrong pic, fear of choosing the wrong script, fear of pissing off the wrong powerful exec. It is so much easier and safer to do nothing and risk nothing and never be wrong. That, however, is not how movies get made. And while Nora was specifically addressing directing, she could just have easily have been talking about writing or producing.

To write, you have to be the bravest person in the room: to not be afraid of writing something awful after you’ve written something good…to not be afraid of writing something controversial if it’s what you want to tackle…to not be afraid of being misunderstood. To produce, you’ve got to be the bravest person in the room: to commit to a project that could be a flop, to take money from investors that they may lose, to run headlong in pursuit of talent and distributors even when you could be cruising for a bruising. In short, making art is an act of courage. Art is bigger than fear.

I have no trouble imagining that Nora Ephron, who the studios didn’t want to direct “This is My Life” and who refused to be pigeonholed, was often the bravest in the room. Even that night at that little New York Women in Film forum where she was ostensibly promoting “Julie and Julia.” Nora, who kept her leukemia a secret to all but her closest friends, saving us the long goodbye and going out on her own terms in the end.

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